Texas Hold 'em-or just Hold 'em, as most players know it-is probably the best known and most popular form of poker today. The popularity comes from the recent explosion of interest in poker. Television exposure, in the form of the World Poker Tour, coverage of the World Series of Poker, celebrity poker events, and coverage of other tournaments, has energized the public. Online players have turned $25 tournament buy-ins into millions, and this has helped popularize online play. And the game of choice in all these events is Hold 'em.
Whether online or in a brick-and mortar cardroom (b&m), Hold 'em plays the same. As in most forms of poker, Hold 'em uses a standard 52-card deck. Hold 'em is usually played 9- or 10-handed online.
Each hand of Hold 'em starts with two blinds. Blinds are preliminary bets made by two players before cards are dealt for the purpose of stimulating action. If there was nothing to win, the first player to make a decision would have no reason to make a bet. The deal position is indicated by a white disk, labeled D, called the dealer button, or, simply, the button. This is the position from which the dealer would distribute cards if the dealer were one of the players. Prior to cards being distributed, the player to the left of the button puts in chips equal to (usually) half the size of the minimum bet for the game (known as the small blind). The player to that player's left puts in chips equal to the minimum bet for the game (known as the big blind).
When you first sit down at a table, you must wait for the big blind to arrive at your position. This happens naturally, because the button moves one position to the left (clockwise) after each hand. Alternatively, to get dealt in at the start of the next hand that wouldn’t put you in the small blind or dealer button position, you can post (put in a blind the same size as the big blind).
Each player must put both a small blind and a big blind into the pot once each per round. If you ever miss the blinds in a round, you must either wait for the big blind to get to you, or post a blind equivalent to the big blind. This you do at one time.
When the blinds are in place, the dealer distributes first one card and then another face down to each player, starting with the little blind. These two starting cards are called hole cards. Your hole cards appear face up on screen, but don't worry; only you can see your hole cards. Only the backs of every other player's hole cards appear on screen. Every other player has a similar view, with only his own hole cards visible.
Each player starts with two cards, and then five cards are placed face-up in the center of the table. These community cards are part of each player's hand, so each player has access to seven cards. Each player tries to make the best possible poker hand by using five of the seven cards. Since a poker hand consists of exactly five cards, only the best five of the seven cards play. Even if you haven't had experience with Hold 'em, you don't have to worry which are the best cards; the software automatically chooses the best five for you when it comes time to compare hands.
Hold 'em, as any form of poker, is about betting. Hold 'em has four betting rounds. The sizes of the bets depend on the structure of the game, of which Hold 'em has three possibilities:
- limit game
- pot-limit game
- no-limit game
The betting on the first round always starts with the player just to the left of the big blind. This position is sometimes called under the gun. In the picture above you are under the gun. As the first player, you have three choices. You can:
- open for the minimum (limp)
- open for a raise
You choose your action by clicking in a dialog box. If you fold at any point, your cards are removed from play and no longer appear on the screen, you are out until the next hand, and you have no further interest in the pot. If you fold, the next player has the same choices. If everyone folds, including the small blind, the pot goes to the big blind, and the next hand is dealt.
If you or anyone else opens, each succeeding player has three choices:
- call, that is, match the preceding bet
- raise, that is, increase the preceding bet
Each player in turn has the same three choices. If there has been a raise, each player who chooses to continue must either call the total bet thus far or himself raise. In any one round of betting, there can be a maximum of one bet plus three raises. When the betting (also called action) gets to the blinds, they have the same choices. However, they already have chips in the pot, and those chips count towards their bet. For example, if, in a $2/$4 limit game, you had opened for $2, and two players had raised, the total bet would be $6. When it was the turn of the small blind, that player could fold. The player could call, by putting $5 into the pot. (He already has $1 in.) Or that player could raise, by putting $7 into the pot. This would cap the betting for that round, that is, cause it to reach the maximum. (Pot limit and no limit games have no cap on the number of bets that can be made.)
Similarly, the big blind, who already has $2 invested in the pot, gets in for $2 less. If there have been no raises when the bets gets to the big blind, that player has what is called the option. He can opt to raise, in which case each active player in turn is offered a choice of calling the raise or reraising-or folding. The big blind can also choose not to raise, which stops the betting for that round. The big blind in this option situation is known in poker parlance as a live blind.
Once the betting for the round is equalized, that is, once everyone has had an opportunity either to fold or match the total betting, the dealer deals three cards face up in the center of the table. These first three of the community cards are called the flop.
The second round of betting takes place. In this round, the betting starts with the first active player (one who still has cards) to the left of the button. If the small blind called on the first round, that player would be first to act, even though he was next-to-last on the first round of betting. Only in the first round (sometimes called the preflop round) does the betting start elsewhere. In all rounds after the first, the first player has two choices:
- check, that is, make no bet
- bet, that is, make a bet at the proper limit for that round
If no one bets, each player in turn has the same choices. It is possible in every round except the first for no betting to occur. No betting in a round is called being checked around.
If anyone bets, each succeeding player has three choices:
- call, that is, match the preceding bet
- raise, that is, increase the preceding bet
A player who checks retains his cards. If someone bets, when the action returns, a player who checked has the preceding three choices. To check and then raise when the betting returns is known, reasonably enough, as check-raising. If you check with the intention of raising, you of course risk the possibility that no one will bet.
Once the betting for the second round is equalized, that is, once everyone has had an opportunity either to check or match the total betting for the round, the dealer deals one more card face up in the center of the table. This fourth of the community cards is called the turn.
The third round of betting takes place. Again, the betting starts with the first active player to the left of the button. The betting proceeds exactly the same as the second round. In a limit game, in the third round and fourth rounds the betting usually proceeds in increments twice the size of the first two rounds.
Once the betting for the third round is equalized, the dealer deals a fifth and final card face up in the center of the table. This last community card is called the river.
The fourth and final round of betting takes place. Again, the betting starts with the first active player to the left of the button. The betting proceeds exactly the same as the two previous rounds.
Once the betting for the fourth round is equalized, the betting is over, and there is a showdown. Remaining active players show their cards and the best hand, comprised of the best five cards from among each player's combination of two hole cards plus the community cards, wins. The holder of the winning hand is awarded the pot. If there is a tie for the best hand, the pot will be split equally amongst the tied players. Occasionally the pot cannot be split evenly amongst all players. If there are any remaining chips left in the pot, the 'extra' chips will be awarded one at a time to the remaining players, starting with the player closest to the left of the button.
Players do not show their cards simultaneously. The showdown takes place in a specified order.
The software shows the cards of the first player to have bet or the last player to have raised in any previous round. (If there was no betting on the river, the cards of the first player to have bet or the last player to have raised on the turn would be shown first on the showdown-and so on.) If the next active player has a better hand than the one just shown (or ties it), the software shows his cards. If the next active player does not have a better hand, the software offers that player a choice. He can show his cards, if he wishes, or he can just get rid of the cards (muck). The software treats each remaining active player in turn the same-either turning over the hand if it is better than (or tied with) any shown thus far or offering the choice of showing or mucking-and awards the pot to the best hand.
Don't worry about inadvertently misreading your hand and accidentally throwing away a winner. As long as you have called to the end, the software awards the pot to the winning hand and reports in the chat box the value of that hand. You may, for example, have been concentrating so hard on making a flush that you don't see that, while you missed the flush, you actually have a straight. The software makes sure that if your hand is the best at the showdown you win.
If the betting is not equalized on the final round, that is, one player bet or raised and no one called, there is no showdown, and the software awards the pot to the player who made that uncalled bet. This is the case on any previous round, as well. If it happens on earlier rounds, no further cards are dealt, because the hand is over.
Sometimes a player runs out of chips before all the betting is over. In such case, one or more side pots are created, and the software awards appropriate main and side pots. When a player is all in, a bet or raise can be made that is not called, but a showdown still takes place.
Players often do not show losing hands. You are entitled, however, to see any cards that were active at the showdown even if they were not shown. Click on LAST HAND to bring up a new window that shows the results of the last hand and all the active cards. You can also specify in that window any previous hand (up to the last 50 in your current session) on which to get a report.
In determining the winning hand, the combination of five best cards sometimes includes both a player's hole cards. Sometimes it includes only one of a player's hole cards. Sometimes, rarely, no hole cards are used. In such a case, the board would contain some combination better than any hand that can be made using any player's hole cards. This is called playing the board. When all players play the board, the pot is split equally among all players remaining in the hand at that point. For example, with an ace-high straight of four different suits on the board, it would be impossible for any player to produce a five-card combination better than an ace-high straight. If three players remained, the software would split the pot equally among the three.